On the buses, part 1: Mdina & Rabat

Unless the price differential is huge, I generally prefer to fly in and out of places in daylight, so that I can dabble in a little "aerial photography".

It's such an unique and invaluable perspective of a city or region that I never care the photos, through a mucky window and usually less-than-clear air, are pale and desaturated. Computer cheating can fake a lot of the colour and contrast back in, and for these shots I don't care about authenticity, I just want to make look at stuff from above.

Sometimes I never quite work out where the places I photograph from above actually are. Other times, like in this example of the Golden Bay area, the geography is distinctive enough that I can identify it with confidence by cruising Google Maps from my bedroom after I get home, but I never actually went there on the ground.

Golden Bay area from the air (close up)

Best of all is when you capture places you did (subsequently) visit on the ground. I did pretty well in this case. Without knowing it at the time (since I was coming into Malta, and didn't have my bearings), I managed to snap everywhere I went on Sunday in a single frame: Mdina, Rabat, Dinghli, and the cliffs of the south coast.

See the dark splodge of forest right in the middle of the picture, and the town immediately bordering it? That's Mtarfa. Ignore that, I didn't go there, I know nothing about it. On the coastline, just right of center, there's a white blob sticking up - that's the Dinghli Radar Station (of which more later). The splodge below and to the right of the radar station is Dinghli itself. Between Dinghli and Mtarfa, the largest urban area in the photo: that's Rabat. On the lower left edge of Rabat, see there's a strip of trees then another smaller rectangle of town? That's Mdina.

Aerial Malta

In that strip of trees separating the two is a park, and it's where I hopped off the bus from Valletta and promptly encountered a bunch of lizards.

Malta's bus system was a pretty big part of the reason I'd chosen to visit. Not because Maltese buses are full of character -- although the internet tell me that they were, until quite recently. (Now, they're run by Arriva, so they're the same buses you'd get anywhere.) Simply because it existed to the extent that it does.

I don't have a driving license so renting a car to get around is never an option, and sticking to the itinerary and pace of a tour group would drive me up the wall. That leaves me with public transport, and unless you're visiting a big metropolis with a metro, there aren't that many places where you can comfortably say "I can get around almost anywhere car-less". On Malta, the bus coverage is sufficiently thorough that this is pretty much true (perhaps because Malta is, if not exactly a metropolis, arguably one big urban zone all the same).

The ticketing system made it 10 times better. You buy a ticket for the day (a modest E1.30??), and after that, get on any buses and as many buses as you like, it makes no difference.

This "any route, any distance, flat fare" structure does more than make getting around extremely cheap, it totally changed the way I "planned" my excursions. I stopped deciding where I wanted to go then looking at when a bus could get me there and bring me back. Instead, I got on whatever bus appeared next, practically at random.

Get on a bus somewhere. See somewhere interesting? Get off, look around. Maybe the next bus on the service you just got off doesn't run for hours - who cares? Another bus will come soon. Where's it going? Who cares? Get on. See something interesting? And repeat.

This is Malta - the next village is only going to be a couple of miles away, it's almost certainly going to be pretty, and have a nice church, and if it's not, the next one will.

And since Valletta is the hub of the bus system, you don't have to worry too much where you end up, you can almost always catch a bus home.

Lizard, Mdina/Rabat Lizard, Mdina/Rabat


Cathedral of St Paul, Mdina Cathedral of St Paul, Mdina Cathedral of St Paul, Mdina Cathedral of St Paul, Mdina

Citadel walls

Citadel walls of Mdina Mosta dome, seen from Mdina Panorama from Mdina


Orange walls of Mdina Alley, Mdina
Father & daughter in Mdina Wide angle street, Mdina
Mdina citadel walls


Flags and decorations of Rabat Decorations of Rabat
Wide angle church and decorations, Rabat Flags of Rabat


Church of St Paul, Rabat Church of St Paul, Rabat
Decorations of Rabat Street, Rabat